Which Species of Coleus?

Robert J. Lebowitz lebowitz at krypton.mankato.msus.edu
Thu Jun 24 10:21:30 EST 1993

There are really only one or two so-called species of the ornamental
coleus that are grown in Western gardens.  All of them are descendents
of plants transported originally  from Java by Dutch traders.  Many of
the cultivated varieties were originally taken from selections grown in
Dutch and later English gardens.  The English went through a
briefColeus-amania period, somewhat like the tulip-amania that swept
Holland.  People were willing to spend ridiculous sums on a few plants
at auctions because of their unusual appearance.  When they were
introduced in the 1800's, there weren't very many plants with highly
variegated leaves available to English gardeners.

There has been a great deal of debate regarding the species name of the
ornamental coleus.  You'll often see seed comapnies and garden supply
houses refer to them as Coleus x hybridus... this is not the correct
name.  They are, contrary to popular belief, hybrids of different
species.  Another name,Coleus blumei is also incorrect.  The proper name
is actually Coleus scutellariodes.  I don't want to bore you with the
details of nomenclature.  I have a book chapter on the subject of COleus
genetics that appeared back in 1985 in Plant Breeding Reviews which
presents all of this information. 

Realize that a lot of the different traits you described that result in
plants with different phenotypes are often controlled by one or a few
genes.  Some of the more obvious differences like leaf shape are often
determined by a single gene.  

Rob Lebowitz
Not the same thing a bit!' said the Hatter.  `You might just as well say
that I see what I eat is the same thing as I eat what I see!
Robert J. Lebowitz                 Department of Biological Sciences
lebowitz at krypton.mankato.msus.edu  Mankato State University, Minnesota 

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